LODD Families Sue Baltimore

The families of three Baltimore firefighters who died in a 2022 building fire have filed suit claiming the city’s failure to catalog and mark structurally compromised buildings caused their deaths. Lieutenant Paul Butrim, FF Kenneth Lacayo, and FF Kelsey Sadler were killed, and FF John McMaster was seriously injured in the January 24, 2022.

The families of Lt. Butrim, FF Lacayo and Salder, along with FF McMaster filed suit filed in US District Court for the District of Maryland today alleging that the city’s failures were so egregious that it constituted a violation of their civil rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 under a Monell – state created danger theory.

As explained in the complaint:

  • Early in the morning on January 24, 2022, Baltimore City firefighters responded to a fire at 205 South Stricker Street, a condemned row house in the Mount Clare neighborhood.
  • They arrived to find the fire in an advanced stage of fire growth.
  • No markings or placards were placed outside indicating that the home was compromised.
  • So, six firefighters were ordered into the burning structure.
  • Moments later, the interior of the house pancaked and collapsed.
  • The commander immediately called Mayday, and a rescue team quickly removed two firefighters from the blaze.
  • The other four firefighters were not as fortunate—Paul Butrim, Kenneth Lacayo, and Kelsey Sadler died, and John McMaster sustained serious permanent injuries.
  • As described herein, the City’s conduct went far beyond the ordinary governmental neglect that is sadly synonymous with Baltimore leadership.
  • It was an intentional and egregious pattern of conduct, committed over more than ten years, with such conscience-shocking deliberate indifference to the Plaintiffs’ constitutional rights as to infer the City’s intention to harm the Plaintiffs.
  • On information and belief, since at least 2010, the City has maintained a policy, custom, and/or practice of lying to firefighters including Plaintiffs about the existence and/or implementation of the Code X-Ray program.
  • Over that time, the City also engaged in a pay-to- play profit-sharing scheme involving vacant homes that the City controlled, ensuring that certain unsafe properties (including 205 Stricker Street) in certain blighted neighborhoods would not be demolished or marked as structurally compromised.
  • Yet, on information and belief, the City continued knowingly sending its firefighters including Plaintiffs into structurally compromised homes without their knowledge.
  • In so doing, the City created and increased the risk of death for the Plaintiffs through its affirmative acts, willfully flouting federal law designed to protect life and limb while firefighters were killed and injured.
  • The City chose corruption over the Constitution and revenue over individual rights at all relevant times.
  • Consequently, firefighters including Plaintiffs were placed at imminent risk of death because of hazards the City created and concealed.
  • The City’s persistent and willful constitutional violations caused at least four firefighter deaths, countless firefighter injuries, and untold property damage.
  • The City intended to harm firefighters including Plaintiffs through its egregious affirmative acts as described herein.
  • The degree of the City’s culpability over time, through its pattern of affirmative acts, under a policy, custom, and/or practice is egregious and shocks the conscience.
  • The City’s unconstitutional policy, custom, and/or practice harmed the Plaintiffs, as described herein.
  • The City’s unconstitutional policy, custom, and/or practice was so persistent, widespread, and well-settled that it constituted custom or usage with the force of law.
  • The City deliberately conceived, implemented, and perpetuated the unconstitutional policy, custom, and/or practice, despite knowing that doing so placed firefighters including the (unknowing) Plaintiffs at imminent risk of death.
  • The City’s conduct described herein was arbitrary because no rational governmental purpose justified its unconstitutional policy, custom, and/or practice.

Here is a copy of the thirty-page complaint. It is an interesting read.

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 45 years of fire service experience and 35 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014, 4th ed. 2022) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
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